“The measure of a man is what he does with power” Pittacus

By Njundu Drammeh

Dear President Barrow,

I sending this short letter to you, not knowing if you will ever see or read it. I learned you are on pilgrimage to the Holy House of Islam. May Allah grant your prayers and accept your Hajj.
Mr. President, I hope you are following the debate regarding the 57 or so pick up vehicles given to our Parliamentarians through what is being claimed to be your “personal efforts”, a donation from you. Indisputably, our law makers need vehicles to effectively perform their parliamentary functions at constituency levels. A vehicle is not a luxury. Vehicles for our Parliamentarians is not mutually exclusive of the other priorities of Government. What is worrying to me are: the frequent use of the phrase “donation by the President”…. You don’t use this phrase but key Government officials use them when they are handing over things to other agencies of the Executive. Semantics matter both in politics and communications and the use of this phrase is politically incorrect and leaves a bitter taste, a reminder of the time when Jammeh totally replaced the State and became its numero uno donor.

It is okay if one arm of Government, in this instance the Executive, enhances the capacity of the other arms, for effective service delivery. In the same breath, the other arms can as well build the capacity of the Executive in other areas. Since the other arms serve as checks on the Executive, that Executive must observe due diligence and all the laid down processes and procedures in whatever “support” it renders the other arms. The legislature has oversight over the national purse and thus whatever expenditure the Executive does out of that purse, the Legislature must hold it accountable. So it is not the support which many fault but rather the how. And a worry about the independence of the Legislature, its oversight and accountability functions. The past still lingers in our thoughts, how Jammeh used patronage to emasculate the Legislature and reduced it to impotence, an insufferable rubber stamp. I would not belabour this point as Madi Jobarteh and others have adequately expounded on it and have asked the pertinent questions.

Mr. President, it is a fact that your predecessor used political patronage, being the transactional leader he was, to win support and loyalty. However, others, both individuals and state institutions, also went out of their ways to curry Jammeh’s favours, to be in his good books, and lavished him with State funds or bankrolled “projects” and events they thought he wanted or “commissioned”. These institutions are still up and running and might want to use the same old tactics to be your blue eyed boys. Social Security and Housing Corporation, Gambia Ports Authority, Gambia Revenue Authority, Gamcel and other parastatals comes to mind. Please don’t encourage such sycophancy. It is a way of hiding defects or avoiding scrutiny and accountability. High performing agencies do not have to curry favours or look for recognition. They naturally earn it through their performance and public appreciation of their services. And public money is public trust; it must never be spent or used to earn the admiration of a leader.

Mr. President, am sure you are being briefed about the happenings at the Commission of Inquiry. The revelations are as astounding as they are disheartening. The star performance of those who have so far testified is rather dramatic and theatrical. From adulation and infatuation of their once powerful bogeyman, they have become Judas. As if they were under some spell; as if they were remote controlled; as if they had no choice. They are a case study. But you should know that men are very fickle and as long as the sunshine lasts, they would jostle for positions under the sun- summer soldiers and sunshine patriots they are. Once the person falls out of power, they will fall out with the person too. Self interest and not national interest drives their motives. As long as their bread is being buttered, they will engage in a certain glorification which only borders on deitification.

Mr. President, a major lesson I am learning from the Commission of Inquiry is that a leader should carefully choose the members of his or her inner circle, the men and women the leader gives his or her ears to. This inner circle determines how high and far the leader flies. They can crib too, and often that is what they do. But the truth in leadership is: “who you are is who you attract”. With small men and nothing great can be achieved. “When you move with wolves, you will learn how to howl. When you fly with eagles, you will soar to greater heights” a sage says.

Mr President, like all of us, you too have choices; to surround yourself, like Caesar, with men and women who are “fat and sleek-headed” or those who “think too much” and have the courage of their convictions. One category is in full supply; the other, there is a dearth but you will find them when you look out for them.
Mr. President, loyalty is earned, not demanded. This reality never dawned on Jammeh. He depended on manipulation, coercion and brute force to get his way. He failed in the end, with the people. This is the reality: you can buy people’s hands but not the deepest loyalty and devotion of their hearts. You can buy people’s backs but not the finest and most creative of their minds. People become loyal when they know the leader will respect and honour them; when they know the leader will act towards them from a set of values and principles in a consistent, predictable way.

Mr. President, you carry the hopes, expectations and aspirations of a whole nation, people brutalized and violated for far too long. As a “dealer in hope”, on your broad shoulders lie the responsibility of sustaining this hope. You have crossed the Rubicon. The real test of your leadership will be in how you lead us to the dream land of justice, equality, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. In few years we will come to know. We will remember you by your legacy, long after you have gone
May your road be rough and tough, Mr. President. Ships are made for the harbour but their place is in the high seas where only the tough survive.
I am optimistic of our future. But i heed that Arab proverb too: Trust in God but tie your camel.

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